tailored their points for their specific
• Instead of writing on their paper, use
sticky notes for your comments—one
comment per sticky note.
• Remark on two things students did
well and only one thing they can improve on.
• Give two grades: one for content (how
clearly and orderly the points and supporting points are stated) and one for
grammar. This gives a more meaningful snapshot of how students are doing.
• Do not aim for perfection; aim for
• Use writing prompts instead of essay
assignments for a few months. This
allows your students to write on interesting topics without being graded.
You can find fun middle school writing prompts here and engaging high
school writing prompts here.
Third Hurdle: Lack of Ideas/
Inability to Put Ideas on Paper
How can you help?
• Prime the pump by letting students
brainstorm with friends.
• If the topic of the essay is, say, earthquakes, students can find ideas of what
to write about by looking in a book on
earthquakes and studying the chapter
titles in the table of contents.
• Students can gather ideas based on
their initials. To read more about this
strange way to get ideas, click here.
• Ask your students, “What do you want
people to know about this topic?” This
question helps them focus on ideas.
• Ask to see their brainstorming paper.
• Require students to write down their
points and put them in a logical order
before they write. They should hand
this in for your approval a day or two
after you assign the essay.
• Instead of saying, “Your essay is due in
a week,” give students a writing schedule. That way, certain parts of the writing process are due on certain days.
You can get a s ample writing schedule
here. Whether your students have no
learning disabilities, have attention or
auditory difficulties, or are on the autism spectrum, the benefits of using a
writing schedule are enormous.
• The problem of the lack of ideas will
dissipate in direct proportion to the
number of essays your students write.
More experience equals a better flow
Fourth Hurdle: Kinesthetic
These students’ lives are in their bodies,
in what they can do. Their learning style
is not faulty; it simply does not coordinate well with the way most material is
taught. But put these students on a farm
tractor, give them a hammer, or let them
play a sport, and they’re happy. How can
we help those students who learn by
touch or by doing?
• Kinesthetic students might like typing
their essays on a keyboard instead of
writing them by hand.
Instruct them to write
their ideas on sticky
notes. That way, when
they have to rearrange
the points into an
effective order, they
simply move them
• Let them write about their interests.
One student in my writing class is from
a farming family and truly loves farming. So far, his essays have been about
Duroc hogs and the history of the John
Deere Company—perfect topics for
• Instruct them to write their ideas on
sticky notes. That way, when they have
to rearrange the points into an effective
order, they simply move them around.
Fifth Hurdle: Insufficient
Knowledge of Writing Tools
To these students, the words “thesis statement” seem as though they are written in
a foreign language, “introductions” are
closely guarded secrets, and the “keys to
writing paragraphs” are buried in the Minotaur’s Labyrinth.
Even worse, some students believe
three fallacies about writing: there are no
rules, it’s all subjective, and the grading
also will be subjective.
None of that is true. Effective writing
follows formats or patterns. For example,
opinion writing is different from persuasive writing, and how-to essays, enumerative paragraphs, and in-text citations all
have certain formats that students can
learn and practice. How can you beef up
your students’ toolboxes?
• When looking for a writing curriculum, check to see if the material teaches
specifics about different kinds of paragraphs and topic sentences, formats for
essay types, and so forth.
• Focus on practicing just one skill for two
weeks. For instance, practice grabbing
the audience by writing introductions to
intriguing topics. Or let them brainstorm
interesting topics they’ll never have to
write about. They do not have to write
complete essays every time.
• Give students a checklist so they know
what you will be looking for when you
grade their papers. For instance, you
can use this evaluation form when assigning and grading a how-to essay. It
gives students something solid and objective to aim for.
For writers dealing with any hurdles,
a routine unplugs procrastination. Consider conducting your writing class at the
same time each day.
If nothing else works, think about enrolling your students in a positive online
writing course such as Fortuigence or in
a writing co-op class you trust. There is
no shame in this. You are not capitulating; you are equipping. Whether at home
or in another safe environment, you are
helping your struggling writers overcome
God bless your good work!
Sharon Watson is the author of Apologia’s
Jump In, which appears in Cathy Duffy’s
101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. She retired from homeschooling after
18 years when she ran out of her own children, but still teaches writing and literature courses to homeschoolers. Her popular
course The Power in Your Hands: Writing
Nonfiction in High School is based on her
sought-after writing classes. When she isn’t
avoiding cleaning her desk, Sharon enjoys
hot air balloon events with her husband
or playing with their two delightful granddaughters. Connect with Sharon on Writing with Sharon Watson, Facebook, and